The Millennial generation — into which I have been unceremoniously lumped, care of a post-Reagan inauguration birthdate — has a thing for the ’90s.
It’s no secret that anyone south of 40 is, these days, looking to extend their neon-colored childhood into the forseeable future. After all, the harder we cling to our Polly Pockets and our Tamagotchis, the less likely we are to have to handle the day-to-day minutiae of reality: paying taxes, having a job, shoveling driveways, keeping potted plants alive and the like. The longer we hold on to what we had when we were comfortably siloed off from the hardships of responsibility, the less likely we are to wake up one morning and face down our own mortality in the bathroom mirror, realizing that the hundred-thousand-dollar Genders Studies education we paid for is unlikely to earn us any living beyond a one-bedroom urban apartment that lacks central air-conditioning.
Call it the folly of progress; our parents did well and spent well. The “Me” generation — the Baby Boomers that raised us — never wanted for anything for themselves. The 1970s and ’80s were a time of conspicuous excess, questionable financial practices, and rampant narcissism (seriously, who would ever wear shoulder pads if you cared about what other people thought of you?), and it birthed a generation of people who can’t quite figure out why the world doesn’t bend to their every whim. And so, Urban Outfitters can sell an entire swath of navel-gazing post-graduate humanity on the faux-widespread appeal of tutu overalls.
Before I start sounding, though, like I’ve been drilled on the Republican Party’s official platform regarding the Millennial voter (get off my lawn!), let me say that the power of nostalgia isn’t always bad. Conservatism, for all its successes and failures, is built on the principle that, at one point in time, things were better than they are today, and that it’s because of the slow, lumbering march of progress that is undertaken without heed to the traditions and values on which the framework of freedom is laid that we’ve ended up miring ourselves in a hellhole of debt and damnation. Nostalgia brings us good things: jurisprudence, Jell-o salads, comfortable furniture, ranch housing, the one-hour scripted television dramas that take place in hospitals, the practice of forcing politicians to shake hands with people who hate them, Aqua Net hairspray, Third Eye Blind reunion tours, and the Ford Mustang. But it can also bring the bad: Jane Fonda, classic movie retreads, microwave pizza, Styx.
And Hillary Clinton.
Living through this last week has been nothing short of a painful reminder that we have not yet managed to cleanse American politics of the Clinton family. And like much of what I remember from the 1990s, including the Republican leadership and the rise of platform jelly sandals, they refuse to acknowledge that somehow they have moved out of the realm of functionality and “fashion forward.” Nothing about this week’s events surrounding Hillary Clinton’s private homebrew server and her heap of deleted emails, excused, apparently, because she couldn’t be bothered to force her closest aide to carry a second phone in her designer handbag, would be out of place in 1996. Replace the allegedly missing communications with allegedly missing FBI files, the Security Council UN backdrop with the set of the Today show, and Hillary Clinton’s reflective metallic spacewoman pantsuit with a padded headband and a spray of L’Air du Temps, throw in a couple of Presidential residence lamps (literally, as Hillary did), and you’d swear you’d built yourself a time machine.
She even got the old band back together. Defending Hillary on the airwaves are none other than Lanny Davis, David Brock, and James Carville, the dream team. The hairstyles have changed a little — David Brock’s coif looks almost like it’s about to declare its sentience and subsequent emancipation from his forehead — but the talking points haven’t: “there’s nothing to see here,” “it’s none of your business,” and “don’t you have a Republican Member of Congress to try for treason?” Like the lingering scent of a ’90s-era middle school boy who bathed in Drakkar Noir, the Clinton theory of political scandal strategy is still very much alive and well. First comes denial, then comes silence, then comes excuses, and then comes mockery, but never a word of responsibility or apology. And even though the prevailing assessment of the Clinton email scandal by Clinton allies has indeed been the more modern “who gives a sh*t?,” and former Secretary Clinton is more adept at sending media releases and packing press scrums than she was then, it’s not hard to imagine that the first thought going through Hillary’s mind at her UN pulpit speech wasn’t of the living, breathing digital spawn of the vast right-wing conspiracy. If only so many weren’t watching in real time on a live feed, she could have easily blamed them. Instead, like the Clinton family is wont to do, she laid much of it on Bill. And as the glass-ceiling smashing feminist leader she is, she laid the rest on her womanly inability to decipher the marvels of modern technology.
Now, while current polls seem to indicate that Americans see Hillary’s pending presidential campaign as more unwelcome Odd Couple remake and less ironic My Little Pony lunchbox, that sentiment may not last forever. It’s a tried and true Clinton tactic to tread the bad stuff ahead of the good, and we could all, as Mark Steyn notes, be the unfortunate, unwilling guinea pigs in the development of a media strategy. If it works, and America forgives (or better yet, ignores) her transgressions, we could still be in for a Democratic primary featuring the Grandmother-in-Chief herself. And given how essential the warm, fuzzy embrace of the Clinton years were to the Millennial generation’s security and self-esteem, Clinton nostalgia could still turn. After all, we all remember writing letters in crayon to Socks the Cat. And we can never recapture the feeling we got when Socks wrote back. He was incredibly adept with a pen for a feline.
I’m counting on the cooler heads in my generation to win out. But I will warn you. I also counted on them to ensure Leonardo DiCaprio’s career was firmly capped with Titanic and that doesn’t seem to have worked out.